Canada differs from the U.S. in so many ways that the two countries can’t be equated when developing your market strategies. It’s common knowledge that product texts for Canada must often include French translations – not European French, but the French of this nation, known as Quebecois.
But this is just the beginning of national characteristics that differentiate Canada from the U.S. Marketing that was originally developed for US customers really needs to undergo thorough localization in order to fit in and appeal across Canada. As much as they might want your product, they have plenty of alternatives. Here are six issues that require careful attention to detail as you localize for this vast country.
1. English spelling: The British spelling variation is used for many Canadian English words. For example, words ending in “er” end with “re,” like the word “theatre.” Words like “travelled” have two “l’s.” Endings with an “-se” as in the American spelling of “defense,” are spelling with a “-ce” ending in Canada.
2. Measurement: Canada adopted the metric system as its standard just half a century ago in 1970, so there is still some remnant use of the Imperial system used in the U.S., but you’re safest using the official metric standard. Celsius is used for temperature instead of Fahrenheit.
3. Slang: Websites especially benefit from the friendliness and humor that slang adds. All kinds of interesting information about Canadian slang is available online.
4. French variations: Canadian French includes dialects from different provinces, more English words than are used in France, and Aboriginal words from Canada’s First Nations peoples. Vocabulary differences are numerous also, with even commonly used words such “car,” which is “char” instead of “voiture.”
5. Diversity: European Canadians account for about 77% of Canada’s 36 million inhabitants. About 14% of the population is Asian, 4% Aboriginal, 3% black, 1% Latin American, and 1% multiracial or ‘other.’ English and French are Canada’s two official languages, but there are also 9 recognized regional ones, and different linguistic standards and laws in different provinces. Adherence to published language standards is enforced at times with fines.
6. Attitudes and Expectations: Canadians and Americans are both accustomed to a high standard of living, product variety and availability, and responsive customer service. But it’s worth considering what effect the far more extensive Canadian social safety net has on cultural attitudes and consumer needs; do you market baby products differently to families who are supported with a year of paid parental leave as they are in Canada, versus 12 weeks in the US (perhaps paid but likely not)? It is also worth considering the impact of having four major political parties rather than two, as well as far lower rates of gun violence and other violent crime – three of many deeply influential features of the social-political landscape in Canada.
Canadian and American product tastes are similar, and that can be a strong advantage for a company that is already established in the US and looking to expand to Canada. But just as your localization for Japan, Russia, or Brazil will only be successful with the professional input of natives to those countries, your company will only thrive in Canada with careful attention to the details that make it unique by people who understand it from the inside.
J. V. McShulskis